Chatting with artist Barbara May Bennett

Can you remember when you first started to draw?

I started drawing as a small child. Colour and form fascinated me.

Why do you like drawing so much?

Having drawn every day from childhood into my mid-20s, I stopped drawing almost entirely as I felt I wasn’t capturing the vision in my head to my artistic satisfaction. Having stopped for over forty years, it was with some trepidation I started again, fearful that my ability to mark make had gone. Thankfully, although somewhat rusty, it hadn’t. I realised how much pleasure and satisfaction drawing has for me, welcomed the new challenges and am busily making up for lost time. 

Is there an artist that inspires you?

There are many artists from the past that inspire me, but I find that very many contemporary artists, especially figure and portrait artists of today, inspire me more day to day. There is just a diversity of materials in use and a bigger acceptance of mixed media and experimentation – and most are open about their techniques and effects which can be of practical help in your own work.

If you could draw anyone in-person alive or dead, who would it be?

There is no one in particular. I am more interested in seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. I am drawn to those who might be perceived as unusual or unconventional. Quirkiness, diversity, age – are more interesting to me.

Pastel, tombow pen, fineliner pen
Model: @emilymetalskin Class: @judithyaws

What keeps you motivated to draw? Do you ever get creative block?

As before, I am making up for lost time, realising how fulfilling drawing is, even when frustrated. There is a constant learning process, even in failure. If I am feeling uninspired or unmotivated, I look through my photographs to see what might be interesting or challenging to draw.  It helps to do even a swift sketch to keep your hand in and keep you in the habit of drawing. Not to mention the practice it gives you. 

Is there any advice you would give someone looking to start drawing?

Just do it. Join a class – in person or online. Read about drawing and give it a try. Pretty much everyone in a class is positive, helpful and encouraging. Buy a sketchbook and doodle. Go to exhibitions and be inspired rather than discouraged.

You have some incredible drawings on your Instagram page. You have mastered your craft; do you have any plans for the future?

Thank you. There is always more to learn. I am already on a course to further my painting skills and am looking to do longer and more intensive courses to stimulate and improve my work both physically and intellectually, content as well as substance.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work? 

Anywhere and everywhere. I love people watching and observing life in general. I try to portray a new take on things, giving the viewer a new insight. I take photos of scenes and people I find interesting. New angles on looking. Find the funny or absurd. Look for a different narrative. And in the work of others.

Do you attend classes or use reference pictures?

Both. There is nothing like a live life class, workshop or course, but zoom classes in portraiture offer amazing new angles, lighting and close ups that not even a one to one session can offer.

What is the most challenging part of drawing people?

Beauty and flawlessness can be very bland. Hands and feet, even though interesting to draw can be a challenge, as can ears. People you can’t engage with.

Do you see the art world going completely digital?

I don’t. With all that can be achieved with digital, unless one is very artistically accomplished as opposed to merely technically accomplished, the result can be very bland and ‘samey’. There is the challenge of working with and mastering art materials to create the differing results and effects you want that are stimulating in itself and the rounded and varied results you can achieve.

Ballpoint pen – Posted with permission of the model

Is there anything you would like to add?

Do give drawing a try. It’s not all about ability, but about enjoyment, fulfilment and challenging yourself. Don’t draw for others, draw for yourself. Ignore the ignorant or indifferent comments. Have fun. Practice, practice and practice some more, whatever your ability. Go to exhibitions and on studio visits, learn what you can from others. Go to classes – drawing with others is a buzz.

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